A deficit of realism

    Americans lament budget deficits, but they always want the other guy to sacrifice to fix them.
    In the weekly “Centre Square” essay, Chris Satullo argues that fiscal shortfalls can be traced in part to shortage of realism by voters.

     

    [audio: satullo20100620.mp3]

    We need to talk.

    By we, I mean we American voters.

    We have a problem. And we’re not dealing with it.

    At all.

    Here’s the problem: Our federal government spends way more money each year than it takes in. It finances the rest with Uncle Sam’s credit card.

    Households that behave that way end up in bankruptcy court.

    Nations that do this end up in like Greece, a basket case that is spooking the global economy.

    The U.S. is about a decade of unreformed behavior away from being Greece. That’s the warning from a very smart guy David Walker, who used to run the Government Accountability Office, the nation’s chief fiscal watchdog.

    He definitely thinks we need to talk.

    Because this really isn’t, in the end, just the politicians’ fault. Or the banks’.

    And it’s not “welfare” that’s driving America to the fiscal cliff.

    No, it’s us, the middle class. Our cherished benefits – our mortgage deductions, health coverage subsidies, our Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security – form the biggest, scariest chunk of unsustainable government spending. And the biggest obstacle to reform is our refusal to share the pain of reform, in taxes or reduced benefits.

    Oh, we love to pretend differently. But, no matter how much we carp about waste, fraud and abuse, that unholy trinity plays only a supporting role in the drama.

    We’re the lead actors.

    Our reaction remains childish: We do want the government to stop spending it doesn’t have. We want it to do so by cutting only those benefits that we don’t receive and raising only those taxes that we don’t pay.

    Doesn’t work. Never has. We must agree on the right mix of sacrifices, the right triumph of citizenship over selfishness. We talk this stuff through more honestly, self-excusing myths aside.

    This week in Philadelphia, we’ll have a chance to do so. This coming Saturday, at the First District Plaza in West Philadelphia, an outfit called America Speaks is holding a day-long town meeting on America’s finances. It’s one of 19 nationwide. Results will be conveyed to the President and Congress.

    If you’re ready to elbow aside childish myths, if you’re ready for honest, fact-based dialogue, sign up at www.usabudgetdiscussion.org. It’s not too late. But someday soon it will be.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.